Editor’s note: This story contains graphic details that might be disturbing to readers.By Shane Benjamin
Herald Staff Writer
A Shiprock man who sexually assaulted a woman while she was too intoxicated to consent, an act that led to her death at a Durango motel in 2007, was sentenced Monday to the maximum penalty allowed under the law – 48 years to life in prison.
In a prepared statement read aloud in 6th Judicial District Court, Harold Nakai maintained his innocence and spoke lovingly of the woman he let bleed to death at the foot of a motel bed while he slept off an alcoholic buzz.
“She was head-over-heals for me, and vice versa,” Nakai said in describing their relationship. “My only regret is I did not get her away from the people who were the real threat in time.”
Nakai was convicted of sexual assault and criminally negligent homicide in 2008. But an appeals court granted him a new trial in 2015, saying some of the statements he made to police were involuntary and should have been suppressed at trial. He was found guilty again of negligent homicide in June, but jurors were unable to reach a unanimous decision on the more-serious sexual assault charge. So prosecutors tried him a third time in September, which resulted in a conviction for sexual assault.
Nakai is one of three men who served copious amounts of vodka to Nicole Leigh Redhorse, 34, of Durango, before having sexual relations with her June 6 and 7, 2007, at the Spanish Trails Inn & Suites, 3141 Main Ave.
The other men – Derrick Nelson Begaye and Carlton Lee Yazzie – are serving 48-year prison terms after being found guilty in 2008 of criminally negligent homicide and sexual assault.
While alone with Redhorse, Yazzie is suspected of inserting a blunt object, possibly a broken hammer handle, into Redhorse’s vagina, which caused lacerations. Those wounds were exacerbated later that night by Nakai, who had anal and vaginal sex with her while she was too intoxicated to consent or stop the assault.
Redhorse was bleeding profusely, and Nakai helped her to the toilet and put her in the bathtub with the shower running for more than an hour. Nakai told police he thought Redhorse was having a miscarriage. The blood clots were so thick he had to push them down the drain, he told police.
He then helped her out of the shower, wrapped her in a blanket, and set her on the floor at the foot of a bed. He stripped the bed of its bloody sheets, flipped the bloody mattress, and went to sleep. He woke up about 4:30 a.m. to find Redhorse lifeless and cold to the touch. He put her in the shower again for about 30 minutes before calling 911.
In his statement to the court, Nakai said he feels like he’s living a surreal nightmare that he can’t wake up from. He portrayed himself as the victim of a criminal justice system that cared more about convicting him than seeking justice. He accused the judge of being biased from the start by holding him on a $2 million bail. And he accused prosecutors of picking and choosing the facts that bolstered their case while casting a blind eye to the truth.
He said he’s not a “cliché” of a “drunken Indian”; he has a “beating heart” and “feels pain.” He vowed to keep fighting for his innocence.
District Judge Jeffrey Wilson said Nakai appears to be under some illusion that the court doesn’t sympathize for him, but that’s not the case.
“I think your life is horrible,” Wilson said.
But the fact remains that Nakai sexually assaulted Redhorse and left her to die on the floor of the motel room without getting her the medical help she needed.
The judge cut his remarks short, saying everything he said during Nakai’s sentencing hearing in 2008 is still true today.
During that hearing, Judge Wilson acknowledged Nakai probably didn’t cause Redhorse’s initial injuries, but he is “the person most responsible for the sexual assault that led to Nicole’s death.”
Nakai will receive credit for the time he has served in prison. But he was given an indeterminate sentence, which means even after serving his 48-year sentence, it will be up to a parole board to decide whether he’s safe to be released.
Redhorse’s parents, Kenneth and Winona Redhorse, have made numerous trips from Longmont to Durango to attend court hearings related to their daughter’s death. On their visits, they pass Spanish Trails Inn & Suites and the liquor store where vodka was bought for their daughter.
“I can’t help but look at Room 525, because it’s very visible from the highway,” Kenneth Redhorse said Monday in court.
He can’t help but think about what happened in the room, the pain she must have felt, and that if Nakai had only called 911 for help, she would be alive today.
“Alcohol didn’t kill Nicole,” he said. “A person did.”